Boys' Soccer: Mesa pulls off upset against Estancia

COSTA MESA — Costa Mesa High senior Franco Ramirez felt like he needed to say something before the game.

Ramirez is a co-captain for the Mustangs boys' soccer team. He was fired up for Wednesday's Orange Coast League opener against rival Estancia, the first Battle for the Bell game.

It's rare that the Mustangs beat their crosstown rivals. But Ramirez said he gave his teammates a speech so emotional that a couple of them cried, as did he.

"I told them that the only way we're going to win this game is if we play with our hearts, play for our school," Ramirez said. "[Estancia] always looks at us like clowns, you know? There's always disadvantages for us, but today we showed them that we can play physically and mentally. [We were] more aggressive. We wanted it more."

Ramirez, a four-year varsity player, showed the Eagles he meant business.

He scored in the second minute and it held up as the Mustangs pulled off the upset, 1-0, at Jim Scott Stadium.

It was a big win for Mesa and its first-year coach, Amos Hernandez. The Mustangs have made the playoffs just once in the past 10 years. Just last month the Mustangs were on probation, a result of too many red cards last year under then-coach Juan Becerra. They played just four games before league play began.

Hernandez, 31, is a walk-on coach who was an assistant at Compton College. He said he wants to build Costa Mesa into a powerhouse program, like his alma mater Lakewood High.

"I didn't come here to lose," Hernandez said.

He definitely had the Mustangs (2-3, 1-0 in league) fired up to play the Eagles (5-4-3, 0-1).

"I thought that [Estancia] played a bit better soccer, but we were resilient," Hernandez said. "I thought that we were more intense, I thought that we were a little bit hungrier. We did a better job at winning 50-50 challenges. We sacrificed our bodies a little bit more, and that was the difference. If we're just strictly talking about soccer, I thought they played a little bit better, but that doesn't always win you games.

"It was more about intensity and heart and effort, and we had a little bit more of it today."

Ramirez showed it just after the opening whistle. He took the pass from Mesa sophomore Fernando Jimenez and split two defenders. The Estancia goalie charged but Ramirez slid near the upper right corner of the box, lofting it over him and into the net.

A fairly dense fog came in just after Ramirez scored the goal. Estancia Coach Robert Castellano saw his Eagles play in a fog in the first half, but they worked hard for the equalizer after halftime.

Sophomore forward Luigi Gonzalez had the best chance in the 67th minute, after taking a cross from the left. But his shot in the box was just over the net. Gonzalez put his hands on his head in disbelief.

Another near-miss came three minutes later, as senior Alex Esquivel's free kick from 35 yards out also whistled just over the bar. Soon Estancia as a team was in disbelief, after the final whistle blew.

"They were pretty pumped up," Castellano said of the Mustangs. "Plain and simple, they wanted this game more than we did. We didn't wake up until the second half, and by then they were packing it in a little bit. The ball just didn't want to go in for us today."

Credit Costa Mesa and its defense anchored by junior goalie Brandon Menez (eight saves). Senior Oscar Dorantes, sophomore Luis Lopez and junior co-captain Alexis Herrera were also steady in the back for Mesa.

Senior Enrique Salazar had a pair of saves for Estancia. But the Mustangs appeared sharp, despite their lack of matches in the preseason.

"We didn't have any games during break," Ramirez said. "Two weeks, we didn't have any games, but we were committed. We practiced on Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve and every morning from 8-11."

Menez said he can't wait for the second Battle for the Bell match, on Jan. 30. Ramirez didn't stop there.

"I think we have the capacity to win league," Ramirez said. "We're mentally strong. We're tiny, but we're so physical. If we play with our hearts like we did today, I think anything's possible."

Twitter: @mjszabo

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